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WASHINGTON, D.C. — FAMM President Julie Stewart today congratulated Maryland leaders for approving major reforms to the state’s drug mandatory minimum sentences. The legislation, HB 121, authorizes state courts to depart below a mandatory minimum in cases where the minimum prison term is not necessary to protect the public and would be excessive in light of the facts and circumstances of the crime and defendant. Governor Larry Hogan recently decided to let the bill, known commonly as a sentencing safety valve, become law without his signature.
“Maryland is lucky to have leaders like Delegate Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City) and Senator Michael Hough (R-Carroll and Frederick Counties) who put aside partisanship and delivered smart sentencing reform for their constituents,” said Stewart. “They deserve enormous credit for finding a way to reduce crime and save taxpayers money.”
Senator Michael Hough said, “This reform achieves an important balance. It protects our communities by maintaining tough penalties for major drug dealers, while ensuring that lower level offenders get appropriate punishment and, where warranted, drug treatment.
“I want to thank my colleagues from both parties, especially Delegate Anderson, House Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario, Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Bobby Zirkin, and Governor Hogan for coming together to make our criminal sentencing system more just and cost-effective. I also want to thank FAMM for its leadership and support,” said Senator Hough.
In March 2013, FAMM released “Turning Off the Spigot: How Sentencing Safety Valves Can Help States Protect Public Safety and Save Money.” The report details how some states have embraced sentencing safety valves as a way of reducing prison populations and saving money, while at the same time protecting public safety.
FAMM also worked closely with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of right-leaning state lawmakers from around the country. In August 2013, ALEC endorsed a state sentencing safety valve, similar to the federal proposal, which would authorize judges to depart from mandatory sentences in many cases.
Maryland law contains 10-, 20-, and 40-year mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. HB 121 retains those mandatory minimums, but enables a court to depart from them if it “finds and states on the record that, giving due regard to the nature of the crime, the history and character of the defendant, and the defendant’s chances of successful rehabilitation: (1) the imposition of the mandatory minimum sentence would result in substantial injustice to the defendant; and (2) the mandatory minimum sentence is not necessary for the protection of the public.” In addition, the bill makes drug offenders eligible for drug treatment, even if they are required to serve a mandatory minimum. Finally, the bill directs the savings achieved by its reforms be used to fund drug treatment programs.
Stewart said that the reform adopted in Annapolis should serve as a model for Congress. “Members of Congress have talked a lot about reform, but done very little. Fortunately, while Washington fiddles, the states churn. Today it’s Maryland. A couple of weeks ago, it was Oklahoma. States across the country are adopting smart sentencing reforms that enhance public safety and reduce wasteful spending. It’s time for Congress to follow their lead.”